The Treasure Trove Known as Polyhedron Magazine.

A good number of writers aspired to work for Dragon magazine back in the old days. One of the best and at that time only ways to really break into the RPG industry as a writer was to get published in Dragon or possibly Dungeon. It definitely looked great on one’s resume back then. An RPGA membership and writing credit in Polyhedron was a good foot in the door.

If you love #ttrpg I highly recommend looking it up.

I still have most of my print copies of the magazine around here. I loved Polyhedron and the Role Playing Game Association up into the Wizards of the Coast years. Here is a link to the Internet Archives. These magazines are part of gaming history alone with a veritable treasure trove of articles on a wide range of RPG topics.

Fair warning: you do have to slog through some of the RPGA bunk such as tournament results and specific club related articles. The ads are nostalgic T$R. A lot of the modules and tournaments are still useable in D&D today with just a bit of conversion. Some of the company’s best writers sidelined in Poly at different times.

Polyhedron was sort of the farm team for Dragon and Dungeon magazines.

A good number of writers aspired to work for Dragon magazine back in the old days. One of the best and at that time only ways to really break into the RPG industry as a writer was to get published in Dragon or possibly Dungeon. It definitely looked great on one’s resume back then. An RPGA membership and writing credit in Polyhedron was a good foot in the door.

I sat in on a number of writer’s workshops when I went to Gen Con many, many years ago. One of my first questions was always, “Where is the best place to start?” I took a lot of notes. I also met a lot of cool notables in the industry.

I was also fortunate enough to share a table with some of the RPGA notables at a few local conventions. Jim and Tom both gave me a lot of great advice on running a convention game and specifically running RPGA tournament modules. Those were truly good times.

Side note: If you have never been to a convention, I highly recommend trying it at least once. Not only do you meet a wider variety of players and game masters, but you get to occasionally bump into some big names in the industry. You also get to try out all kinds of neat games! 

Nowadays, WotC isn't the only company in the industry with big names in RPG design. Actual Play podcasters and notables also occasionally make con appearances. Either online on in-person, conventions are usually worth the price of admission, even for a day. Don't forget to visit the vendor's room.

The RPGA used to welcome tournament submissions from a wider variety of games than just D&D.

In case anyone wonders, I always type it out as T$R to honor this old logo. It’s a dragon, not a dollar sign.

Before WotC got ahold of T$R, the RPGA used to cater to a wider variety of games than just D&D. Much like Dragon, Polyhedron dwindled down slowly over the years from a variety of games ranging from D&D all the way through Marvel Super Heroes, Star Wars (West End,) Star Frontiers, Battletech, Gamma World, and Boot Hill. Top Secret S.I. and some other T$R properties were on the list. There were also some broad-ranging articles that could apply to any system.

I ran RPGA sanctioned Cyberpunk and Star Wars events at a convention. Back in those days, the industry was a great deal less competitive than it is now. Even though not everything was a T$R product, many were welcomed to the table in the name of camaraderie, fun, and role playing.

Sad to say I miss the magazine more than the organization.

It’s also why I don’t participate in the 5E Adventurers’ League, aside from some of the DM horror stories I hear about their content. The RPGA was always a bit too full of itself. It also had the tendency to bring out a real ugly side of people when it came to points, loot, and social status. I just want to run a fun game then and now.

After WotC took over, as you may have surmised by now, Polyhedron and Dragon became strictly current edition D&D. The ads were all aimed at D&D and other WotC products for the most part. Toward the very end, everything was just another promotion for the latest D&D product. I say this with all the love in the world: There are other games out there besides D&D.

Online/PDF ‘zines just don’t have the same look and feel to them for some reason.

Hey, my heart goes out to anyone producing an online PDF or other format magazine these days. It’s not like back when Polyhedron was huge and there was no Internet or professional trade publications to really compete with. I collected a few fanzines back in those days, but none came close to T$R quality.

The look was what we now think of as OSR. Mostly black and white artwork, reasonably cheap printing, and works of love by fans; some of whom happened to be T$R staffers. There was also an air of discovery. Tons of blogs and articles cover the same topics that originally appeared in those early ‘zines from “How to run a fun game,” to “What to do when D&D combat gets stale.” These types of articles are commonplace now.

So many resources that we take for granted now just weren’t available back then. There’s no need for a D&D trade magazine now. That goes for Dragon and Polyhedron. We also have lots of apps and sites such as Patreon to fill the same niches from various indie creators for about the same price we used to pay back in the day.

Would it fly now?

I’d have to say it’s unlikely. Even if it were an email newsletter or website, a ‘zine dedicated strictly to articles about D&D and related WotC content just doesn’t have the same appeal. With One D&D and the new VTT D&D Beyond coming, I feel like ‘zine style content is going to be more on the decline.

Now, that’s not to say a more generic fanzines or Gongfarmer’s Almanac, the Dungeon Crawl Classics (Unofficial) ‘zine don’t sell. There are fanzines likewise dedicated to OSR content all over the web that seem to be doing okay.

WIth approximately 50 million or more RPG fans in the world, I’d say the interest might still be there. If someone could pull together OGL content from a variety of sources and combine it with some general articles, fiction, and maybe some comic strips, it might do okay. But it will never have the official support that T$R and WotC gave to Polyhedron. Having really the only official club in the industry makes a bit of difference.

Lots of love to anyone who tries it, though. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. Game on.

Zines.

People have come a long way from printing fanzines from their basement photocopiers or their local Kinko’s. I remember when that was a thing.

I’ve come back to this question countless times.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Will they sell? Do TTRPG fans still read magazines? Or fan zines? Anything like that?

We used to have Dragon as our number one resource for D&D. Okay, back in the golden years of Dragon, it was D&D, Marvel, Top Secret SI, Gamma World, Star Frontiers and a ton of fiction, comics and other cool stuff.

Dragon was a truly great print magazine. I still have fond memories of particular issues. Heck, I still have most of them around here in one box or another. (Pfft! My wife calls me a pack rat. Whatever…) I remember articles on bows and sword variants. The Ecologies articles were pretty cool. Marvel Phile was ahead of its time for that RPG.

Later on when WotC, Paizo, and then WotC got a hold of it again, Dragon became kinda the cheerleading mouthpiece for whatever they wanted everyone to buy next. They stopped including non D&D content altogether. The magazine began to lose its luster compared to online publications and blogs. I have the last print issue around here somewhere. <sniffle.>

Of course, Dragon has attempted more than one online reboot and is still running today as Dragon+ if I recall correctly. It is free over on the D&D site. It’s cool. Kinda reminds me of the way WotC ran print Dragon. It’s a lot of rah-rah for the newest and shiniest stuff that’s coming out. They occasionally drop some pithy interviews and other gamer stuff, too.

I could go all OG on Dragon+, but I won’t. It’s easy to be a Grognard and rail on the new stuff. “Those damn kids…” But really there’s not much point to it any more. Besides, some of this new stuff is worth checking out.

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Technically Polyhedron was the official fanzine of the Role Playing Game Association.

Ahh. The good old days…

Second only to Dragon Magazine was a lesser known publication called Polyhedron. I was a member of the RPGA back in the 1980’s and 1990’s until Wizards of the Coast took charge of it. The main draw of belonging to the organization was my monthly subscription to Polyhedron. That particular magazine offered more of an outlet to break into game writing. It was also a good source of short adventures and other crunchy gaming bits.

Some of my favorite articles in Polyhedron rarely had anything to do with D&D. Sounds strange, I know. but the articles such as a table of military unit names was really appealing to me. That little magazine dove into everything RPG and not just what T$R was running at the time, at least until later on. Not to dis the D&D content, either. There were some pretty awesome ideas for potions, magic items, character variations, dungeons. All kinds of cool stuff. I kinda miss it. (But I still have all of my back issues. 😁)

Speaking of Dungeons.

Dungeon Magazine was another popular fanzine back in the golden era of T$R and even later on. It gave us full on dungeons and modules we could run every other month. If nothing else, it was good for grabbing bits and bobs of encounters and characters. This is eventually where Polyhedron ended up. Maybe a little less newbie writer friendly, though.

Dungeon was also a playground for newer writers and accomplished T$R veterans alike. They even did things for AD&D such as Oriental Adventures modules and Battle System scenarios. Of course, the sales declined when the World Wide Web began to provide an outlet for unpublished authors and module sales in general declined a bit over time.

Print is, uh, kinda dead.

When I went to college, there was a saying going around. “Print is dead,” they’d say. It’s true to an extent. We live in a day and age when print magazines and other paper-based publications are rapidly becoming extinct.

Truly, why bother when I can carry entire volumes of books, magazines, and other publications that used to be printed on paper. I can hop on any given Internet browser and go to one of hundreds of fan sites for just about anything. My email inbox regularly contains at least one newsletter for someone or something I follow.

Things have changed a lot over the years.

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This is when I start to have doubts about zines in general. A lot of fan-based publications have popped up over the years in one form or another. I’ve seen blogs, like this one. There are any number of PDF publications. Some people put out email newsletters. I hear that Patreon thing is popular.

People have come a long way from printing fanzines from their basement photocopiers or their local Kinko’s. I remember when that was a thing. I ran articles for a little fanzine called Papyrus. Good times. Nowadays you can find almost anything those little fanzines ever offered on PDF, newsletter, or website. I’m deliberately avoiding any kind of forums or message boards.

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I occasionally read through Star Frontiersman and/or Frontier Explorer. I like to explore the blogosphere for some OSR content from time to time. There are a fantastic number of sites dedicated to Dungeon Crawl Classics and other OSR themed games. I also like to scroll around on DriveThruRPG for new (free) zines and content that interests me. There are so many options now.

I saw a couple of people on Twitter recently announce new zines.

If we’re being honest, I’ve considered it myself. I have the layout. I did that sort of thing in college. It’s a lot of fun. BUT, I have this blog. (Love you, family!)

More than that, I’m not sure how viable a zine would be financially. I encourage people to try that format out and see how it goes. A broader approach allowing for multiple systems and lots of non-gaming content besides might appeal the way Dragon and Polyhedron used to. Who knows? Maybe they’re onto something.

I want to keep my eye on these newly formed zines. I might even offer up an article or two, depending. (Probably for free or in trade for complimentary issues.) There’s a lot of potential in zines yet, but it’s also a LOT of work. I’ll be curious to see what happens.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’re having a lovely week. I appreciate you!

Thank you for being here!

Today’s Learning Experience was…

Being an avid tabletop roleplaying game fan has taught me a lot of things in life.

Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guild Logo c/o Wizards of the Coast.

Okay, so this is intended to be pretty lighthearted. As is probably known, and I’m not trying to brag, I have become a bit of a Renaissance man over the years. My choir director in high school used to actually chide me about that, even when I was around sixteen. Back then it was sports, electronics, photography, art, writing, Spanish, theatre and Dungeons & Dragons. Nowadays it’s UFOlogy, spirituality, Law of Attraction, self development, cooking, kids, Instagram, writing, and Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve been at this game since I was about 11 years old. They featured a guy about my age on CNN who’s still got his game going, if you want a comparison.

One summer wayyy back in the 1980’s a friend that I met at the swimming pool introduced me to this really neat-o game called “Marvel Superhero Role-Playing.” I was a huge comics fan and it only seemed natural. Sure enough, I was drawn to it like ants on sugar. My friend thought it was awesome because they passed the job of running the game off onto me. Ha! D&D was soon to follow, like, the next day. My friend thought running the game sucked and somehow that’s why I needed to be in charge.

Marvel Super Heroes RPG Judge’s Book

The joke was on him. (Sorry, Travis.) I’m still going strong 35+ years later. Obviously not on the same campaign or even the same game, but you get the point. I love tabletop role playing games. It has pushed me to become a better writer, learn journalism, sociology, and so many other things. I even met my wife at a gaming convention back many, many years ago. I’ve had the privilege of working for three game stores over the years plus a few writing endeavors.

Of course, there have been some lean years with me and the hobby. In high school, we were still in the era of “D&D is a scary satanic cult and obviously all you kids who play it are going to burn in hell.” I can’t count the number of times they tried to sell us on that one, even at school assemblies. That shit was hilarious. Obviously no one in my group of friends was remotely dissuaded from doing anything. I mean, seriously? It’s a GAME, people! Not even a competitive one. (Maybe that’s what was confusing. Who knows?) As far as I am aware, this hobby has never successfully been branded a cult, caused a suicide, or managed to summon an actual demon. It’s a burnt-out old fear paradigm… Moving on.

Then there was college. No joke, I ended up bouncing majors no less than a half dozen times before coming back to journalism and sociology. Writing + Interacting with people. It made sense to me, anyway but I’ll be honest, more than a little influenced by my love for RPG’s. It’s not like a theatre career was going anywhere from here in the armpit of the theatrical world. (Sorry not sorry. It’s true. Iowa is not known for Broadway productions.) Although ironically, D&D 5E has risen in mainstream popularity because of a group of voice actors doing a gaming podcast called “Critical Role.”

Lastly, my real moment of Homer Simpson at the Bowling Alley came when I stopped working part time at our Friendly Local Game Store because we had two kids at the time and I needed a real, good paying, full-time job. (Blech! 🤢) I know, right? (The Bowling Alley was Homer’s dream job in case you missed it.) My wife and I even had to give up our regular game sessions because my work schedule totally didn’t mesh with trying to run a regular game. That, and we’re up to four kids. What time?

BUT, never to be discouraged, I have kept up on the industry pretty well and I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to get involved. I have a second blog, second Instagram Account and I’m debating about expanding a couple of other ways once the Covid thing dies down some more. @sellsword.games and sellswordgames.game.blog if you’re curious. Not much there to look at yet, but I’m still working on it. Writing, collecting, interacting with the community, and learning a lot about self publishing have become a fascination of mine.

To make matters even more awesome, my kids are getting old enough to become interested in the hobby. Woot! Time to break out the dice and the DM’s Screen again. Yes! Under mom’s careful supervision, of course.

Today, I learned…
(Photo courtesy of Disney Jr.)

So, getting to the gist of what I was originally starting to say before I got a little sidetracked down memory lane. Today, I learned a couple of neat things. One is WordPress, (Love you guys ❤😁) was missing a command to show my other blog over on the other page. LOL! My bad for not proofing my page, not theirs.

Another thing I learned, in my research for starting a new gaming zine, is that apparently while print is mostly dying, zines are still around, sorta? Most of the major online hobby magazines have dissolved into one of about three or four different places.

The first and most obvious is Patreon. Patreon lets you choose how much content you want to give as a publisher for a certain dollar amount. I have some hangups when it comes to Patreon that I will discuss some other time. It’s cool, but at the same time, maybe not my thing? The verdict is still out on that one.

The next place I’ve seen a lot of zines disappear to is different websites and blogs. This is why I am developing a blog and eventually site pages to go with it over on my other site. Maybe some premium content eventually. It’s in the works sometime down the road.

Then there’s the App market. This actually surprised me a little. Yes, I know. Probably seems a little strange to some of the younger folks. Even the company I work for has a rewards app these days. But somehow I didn’t see this thing with the magazine coming.

Dragon+ is what has become of my beloved Dragon Magazine now an app. Sigh.
(Logo property of Wizards of the Coast.)

Lastly, and this is where my jumping-on point was originally, is the PDF market. I would have thought for sure that this was the way to go. I mean, we used to buy actual print magazines for $4.99. A lot of print books are now exclusively PDFs now. The PDF market, or rather the e-publishing marketplace is the way to go on so many other things now, right? At least if you’re looking to self publish, anyway.

I mean, I understand that the game publishing community is one of profit and commerce. Maybe not a millionaire maker, but at least enough to buy the next book from some other company that comes along or enough cash to buy a pizza. I’m not looking to get rich. Turns out a lot of the hosting sites for PDF publishing charge a pretty hefty percentage off the top of your product, especially the folks at the Dungeon Masters Guild. Go figure. It’s more about the love of the game, anyway.

But, there’s a real added value to this experience. By learning how the gaming market comes together, I’m learning WordPress and web marketing as well as so many other fun facts today. Play the clowny outro music. I’m outta here for the day. Zing!

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